Packers Control Their Destiny

The playoffs — and the NFC North — are there for the taking for Green Bay entering the fourth quarter of the season. We examine each of the teams who are vying for the six spots in the NFC.

If the season were to end today, the Green Bay Packers would not be in the playoffs.

"That's why you play 16 games," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "I don't reflect on those types of things. I am just really focused on us playing our best football. We need to have a great week of preparation and make sure we go to Detroit and put our best foot forward."

The Packers are in complete control of their playoff destiny, especially with season-ending games against the Giants and Bears. If the Packers win out and the Bears only lose to the Packers, Green Bay would win the NFC North. They'd tie in head-to-head (1-1), division opponents (5-1) and common opponents (11-3). That would send it to conference record. Both teams have three losses in the NFC and losing to Green Bay would be NFC loss No. 4 for Chicago.

Here's how things look entering Week 14.

NFC South — Atlanta (10-2): Final schedule: at Carolina (1-11), at Seattle (6-6), New Orleans (9-3), Carolina (1-11). Cumulative record: 17-31. The skinny: The Falcons are in the complete control of the race for homefield advantage. If they go 3-1 (with the loss to the Saints) and the Saints go 4-0, the Falcons would win the division on a tiebreaker, and they'd earn homefield, too, based on a better conference record than the Bears.

NFC North — Chicago (9-3): Final schedule: New England (10-2), at Minnesota (5-7), N.Y. Jets (9-3), at Green Bay (8-4). Cumulative record: 32-16. The skinny: The Bears are in position to earn a first-round bye but just as easily could miss the playoffs. Fortunately for them, they get the Patriots and Jets at home. The NFL must love the prospects of Packers-Bears at Lambeau in Week 17.

NFC East — Philadelphia (8-4): Final schedule: at Dallas (4-8), at N.Y. Giants (8-4), Minnesota (5-7), Dallas (4-8). Cumulative record: 21-27. The skinny: As the saying goes, it's not who you play but when you play them. On paper, the Eagles are in great shape but the Cowboys and Vikings have turned things around under new coaches and the game against the Giants figures to decide the division.

NFC West — St. Louis (6-6) and Seattle (6-6): The skinny: Commissioner Roger Goodell should contract this whole division out of common decency. These teams meet in the season finale. Both will be 7-8 — the Rams will lose at New Orleans and at home against Kansas City; the Seahawks will lose at home to Atlanta and at Tampa Bay.

Wild card — New Orleans (9-3): Final schedule: St. Louis (6-6), at Baltimore (8-4), at Atlanta (10-2), Tampa Bay (7-5). Cumulative record: 31-17. The skinny: The defending Super Bowl champions have won five in a row at a good time, with back-to-back road games against the Ravens and Falcons highlighting the second-most difficult schedule among the contenders.

Wild card — N.Y. Giants (8-4): Final schedule: at Minnesota (5-7), Philadelphia (8-4), at Green Bay (8-4), at Washington (5-7). Cumulative record: 26-22. The skinny: The Giants are the only playoff contender with one home game and three road games. By the time they visit Lambeau in Week 16, they'll either be atop the NFC East or finished.

In the hunt — Green Bay (8-4): Final schedule: at Detroit (2-10), at New England (10-2), N.Y. Giants (8-4), Chicago (9-3). Cumulative record: 29-19. The skinny: It's easy to look at the final three games and forget about Detroit, but if the Packers lose this week, they're basically finished. The game against the Giants figures to be a wild-card tiebreaker and the Chicago game probably will decide the NFC North.

In the hunt — Tampa Bay (7-5): Final schedule: at Washington (5-7), Detroit (2-10), Seattle (6-6), at New Orleans (9-3). The surprising Buccaneers are fading, with two consecutive losses and losses in three of their last five. Their season probably rests on this week's game against Washington, which could kick off a three-game winning streak.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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